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Artist Jeremy Deller helps Newcastle recreate Martin Luther King speech

Artist Jeremy Deller helps Newcastle recreate Martin Luther King speech
From BBC - November 13, 2017

In barbers and bakeries, train stations and tea factories, the words of civil rights campaigner Martin Luther King were given fresh breath by the people of Newcastle on Monday - helped by artist Jeremy Deller.

In George Scott gentlemen's hairdressers, a customer sits and listens - he has not got much choice, with his short back and sides in progress - to a speech about how "racism is a reality in many sections of our world today".

The person delivering the speech is his barber, Allan Andrew Symons. He ends by informing his bemused client that they are "words spoken by Dr Martin Luther King Jr in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 13th November 1967".

In the tiny Pink Lane Bakery, Sara Williams has worked out that she can deliver Dr King's words in the time it takes to make a coffee.

"Some people have ignored me completely," she says. "Some people have looked at me a bit strangely. Others have listened and been more engaged."

In the city library, IT project manager and actress Amanda Hepburn stands in the foyer and tells of how all the nations of the world must transform into "a beautiful symphony of brotherhood".

"I saw one of the library staff clutching her hand to her chest like she was a bit emotional about it, which was very nice," she says after delivering her lines.

"Everybody else seems a bit worried. There was a lady with a pram who hustled away, frightened that I was some loony in the library.

"But I think when they understand what it's all about, and what it means to Newcastle, they will understand what a special event this is."

It's exactly 50 years since Dr King delivered his speech at Newcastle University. He was accepting an honorary degree, and Newcastle was the only UK university to bestow such an honour upon him in his lifetime.

It was also the last speech he gave outside the US. Five months later, he was dead.

Now, 50 people have spontaneously recited lines from that acceptance speech - taking people by surprise in shops, schools, offices, on the street, a yoga class, a business conference.

"I feel very humble that I am speaking the words of such a great man, who made such a great effect on the world," Mrs Hepburn adds.

"I am so proud that Newcastle reached out to him, and that Newcastle opened its heart to the civil rights movement is very special. It makes me so proud to be from Newcastle."

The idea for the city-wide anniversary performance came from Jeremy Deller, one of Britain's leading artists, who knows how to make a big impact by interjecting his ideas into our everyday lives.

He was behind the powerful We are Here Because We are Here project last year, which placed "ghost soldiers" into towns across the UK to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.

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